Mission accomplished: Jimmies sweep Raiders for GPAC title
The University of Jamestown women's volleyball team hosted Northwestern College Saturday.
Nicole Schmitz watched last season's Great Plains Athletic Conference women's volleyball Championship between the University of Jamestown and Northwestern College from the stands.
This year she was on the court.
The Jimmies swept the Red Raiders 25-21, 25-22, 25-21 Saturday afternoon at Harold Newman Arena, defending their GPAC tournament title. UJ toppled Northwestern in November of 2019 for the conference title and battled their way to a five-set win over the GPAC's No. 2 team to end the 2020-21 regular season.
"We're just so excited with how we played tonight," Schmitz said. "Obviously it's a conference rivalry, but you just have to get over the hump of playing Northwestern. We know they are good and today was a great mental booster for us."
The Jimmies and Red Raiders will both locked into the upcoming NAIA national tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the Jimmies will host the opening round of the tournament on April 17. Final site matches are scheduled to begin on April 27 in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Jimmies will find out who they'll host on Monday.
"I was just hoping that we could stick with (Northwestern) because they are so talented," UJ head coach Jon Hegerle said. "I am really proud of our players. I thought we stepped it up in a lot of different areas. We were locked in, that was good to see."
UJ -- and Schmitz -- were focused from the first whistle.
Schmitz gave the Jimmies the early lead, absolutely crushing a ball set up by junior Jackie Meiklejohn. The high-velocity kill kicked off a 3-1 run. Former NAIA athlete of the year, Anna Wedel, helped the Red Raiders within one of the Jimmies, but the home team couldn't be rattled too much.
The Jimmies' steady pace of play manifested itself in a 7-1 run to make the score 17-11. Northwestern fought their way back to come within two, but a 4-1 run at the end was enough to give the Jimmies' a first set win.
"The last time I had played Northwestern was in November and it was for the (regular-season) championship," Schmitz said. "I just wanted to go out how I ended in November and show them that, yeah, I took a month off, but I am still here."
Schmitz hasn't been on the court for more than a handful of rotations this spring due to health reasons. The true freshman has since recovered and has been given the green light to play more than just a couple of points. Hegerle said the 2019 Class B Senior Athlete of the Year from nearby Oakes proved to be a huge asset for the Jimmies.
"We didn't want to bring her back too quick, we wanted to allow her time physically and mentally," Hegerle said. "By far, this was her best match of the three (tournament) matches. Tonight she made a huge difference, especially in the first set and a half."
Schmitz's powerful arm nailed down eight attacks on the outside. The freshman put a couple of balls cross-court, and some down the left sideline while dropping in some tips and roll shots that found gaps in the Red Raiders' defense. During the fall season, Schmitz had put 150 kills.
As a team, the Jimmies' hitting percentages averaged out to be .232 while the Red Raiders were knocking the ball down at .147. UJ totaled 48 kills while Northwestern ended with 38 kills off of 129 attack attempts. Anna Holen led the Jimmies in the front row with 11 kills while Kalli Hegerle put up 10.
"Our hitters did a tremendous job of mixing up shots -- hitting hard, tipping, roll shotting, hitting off the block -- stuff we've kind of been working on in the last month," said coach Hegerle. "Nicole had some great kills and some great plays and it was like, 'OK, Nicole is getting back to it.'"
Schmitz helped give the Jimmies their first lead of the third set beating a Northwestern blocker to the ball at the net and shooting it down to make it 7-6 Jimmies. The Red Raiders retaliated with some deep shots that made it 12-9 in a hurry.
The Red Raiders would be foolish if they thought they had gained a lead the Jimmies couldn't overcome.
UJ came roaring back, going on a 6-1 run that made it 15-13 and forcing Northwestern head coach Kyle Van Den Bosch to call a timeout. There were six lead changes and 10 tied scores by the time the Jimmies reached 21 points. The score stood at 24-20, and while the team gave up one more to the Red Raiders, Kalli Hegerle didn't plan on them getting any more. The junior right-side ended the three-setter with a well-placed attack.
"We're very pleased with the outcome of the game," Schmitz said. "I am so excited to be a part of this team, next Saturday can't come soon enough."
University of Jamestown 3, Northwestern College 0
NW 21 22 21
UJ 25 25 25
NW-- Kills: Makenzie Fink 9, Anna Wedel 8, A.J. Kacmarynski 7, Emily Van Ginkel 6, Bekah Horstman 5, Lacey Reitz 3. Assists: Reitz 29. Digs: Olivia Granstra 17, Reitz 15, Wedel 8, Emily Strasser 8, Natalie De Haan 5, Fink 4, Van Ginkel 2, Bri Kleinwolterink 1, Kacmarynski 1. Aces: Kleinwolterink 2, Reitz 1, Jadeyn Schutt 1, Kacmarynski 1. Blocks: Reitz 1, Wedel 1, Kacmarynski 1.
UJ -- Kills: Anna Holen 11, Kalli Hegerle 10, Nicole Schmitz 8, Corina Huff 7, Jayla Ritter 5, Taylor Sabinash 5, Megan Gaffaney 2. Assists: Jackie Meiklejohn 21, Gaffaney 17. Digs: Holen 23, Sydney Ellingson 19, Meiklejohn 7, Gaffaney 6, Hegerle 6, Hannah Schiele 4, Taylor Sabinash 3, Schmitz 1. Aces: Meiklejohn 1, Schiele 1. Blocks: Ritter 1, Huff 1, Holen 1.